When I think about my frequent compulsion and delight in make food from scratch, I always return to my interest in connection and transformation. I like taking an active role in knowing not only where my food comes from but being deeply involved in making it. And this making is a transformative process. I often think that, to some, I might appear a little crazy as I try to make more and more food in my own kitchen when it is so easily available in store bought form. This makes me think that I have to sell the idea, to convince you and others, by saying how it’s actually really easy or it will save you money or it just tastes better. I’d love for you to try making more food from scratch, especially if you’ve never done it or if you do it a lot and want to try something new, but I’m actually not very good at a sales pitch.
Although I almost never buy them, English muffins are a wonderful breakfast treat. I’ve tried making them a few times in the past several years but they never seemed as good as the nook and cranny full ones I could buy. As much as I love the satisfaction of pulling it out of my own oven, sharing something I made by hand, there are times when homemade might fall short. Especially if you live with someone who nearly always prefers the grocery store versions that he grew up with, it might not matter that something homemade is healthier or more flavorful.
In the past month, I’ve tried a couple of different English muffin recipes and come to realize that there is another layer to the satisfaction of homemade. Instead of believing that just making it myself is enough, I realize that often it is worth it to pursue the best I can make. This may happen over years or over trying a few recipes, or stumbling right away on something so good. And that’s another beauty to making it yourself: you can try it again and again. After the plates are emptied or the first batch gets eaten you have a blank slate to try another version, change the flavors, or find a new recipe that might get you closer to the results you want.
I am far from being a perfectionist but I’m realizing that I want to keep honing my skills. The goal is not to just try making English muffins because I’ve never done it but to enjoy really good English muffins if that’s what I want to eat.
Homemade English Muffins
Adapted mostly from this recipe but also inspired by this one.
English muffins are often cooked on a skillet on top of the stove, but it can be easy to burn the outside while the inside stays uncooked. This recipe gives them a quick trip in the oven where they should be perfectly cooked. At first I avoided this recipe because of the extra potato step but it really helps the muffins get the perfect texture. Although this recipe seems long, there is not a lot of hands on time so don’t let that keep you from great homemade English muffins.
1 medium yukon gold potato
1 1/3 cups water (11 ounces) at room temperature
8 ounces all purpose flour
8 ounces whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoon yeast (instant or active dry yeast — both will work fine)
6 tablespoons water at room temperature
oil for the bowl and your hands
flour to keep the dough from sticking when shaping
coarse cornmeal for dusting the baking pans
Peel the potato, cut it into small pieces and boil in a pot for about 10 minutes. When the pieces of potato are soft, drain the water and mash the potato. You should have about 1/2 cup mashed potato. Let cool completely.
Once the potato is cool, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the 1 1/3 cups water, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, honey, salt and yeast. Mix on low speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and sticky. Turn off the mixer and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
Start the mixer on low again. Let it mix for a minute or so and then begin adding the additional water, 2 tablespoons at a time. After each addition, mix until the water is evenly incorporated, scraping the dough from the hook and sides of the bowl as necessary. Once you have added all 6 tablespoons, continue mixing until the dough is even and smooth. It will be quite wet and stretchy.
Oil a bowl and scrape the dough into it. Cover it will a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise. After 30 minutes, it is time to turn the dough. Oil your hands to keep them from sticking. Uncover the bowl and reach your hand to the dough across from you picking up the dough on the far side of the bowl and folding it over to the side closest to you. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, pick up the dough on the far side of the bowl and fold it over again. Repeat this two more times until you have gone all the way around the bowl. Cover and leave the dough for another 30 minutes. Turn the dough again in the same way. Cover and let rest for one more hour. By now it should have increased in size and become inflated and bubbly.
Now, you can cover the dough so it is airtight and refrigerate it over night or continue making the English muffins. For the next step, generously flour your work surface. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust them with coarse cornmeal. Oil or flour your hands since the dough is very sticky. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it in half. Set half the dough aside. Divide the other half of the dough into 6 equal pieces. Take one piece at a time and roll it between your hands to shape it into a round disk. Place it on the baking sheet. Repeat this with all six pieces of dough, placing them evenly apart on the baking sheet. Divide the second half of the dough into 6 pieces and do the same. Cover the baking sheets with tea towels and leave them to rise until they have doubled in size. This will take about 1 – 1 1/2 hours if the dough was not refrigerated and 2 – 2 1/2 hours if it was.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the muffins for 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven, flip over each muffin and bake for 8 more minutes. Let the English muffins cool on a wire rack. Slice in half and toast or serve as you like. You can freeze the English muffins or keep them refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.